Claire Beale: Tesco must be a brand worthy of better ads
A view from Claire Beale

Claire Beale: Tesco must be a brand worthy of better ads

An awful lot of people have been enjoying Tesco's discomfort this week. Shoppers - the ones who enjoy a vigorous online rant - have been giving the retailer a good pounding, while the ad industry has been slavering over the prospect of its ad review.

Mind you, the ad industry has been slavering over the prospect of a Tesco ad review for years. Tesco's advertising has become bland, lazy and ignorable, limping embarrassingly on well past its sell-by date.

But Tesco's issues are not about the quality of its advertising. From the melee of criticism about Tesco this week, there emerges a picture of a corporation that has underinvested in everything from its retail outlets and its staff, to the quality of its offering, our local neighbourhood ecologies and the lifespan of its carrier bags. You don't make gross profits three or four times those of your nearest competitors (and an outstanding £2.5 billion UK profit, albeit down 1 per cent, as announced this week) without cutting some corners, no matter how big your customer base is.

Cleaning up the stores, investing in staff, better-quality products and all the rest will take time to translate into an improved shopping experience, though, even with £1 billion to spend doing it. So, inevitably, the ad account has gone up for review as an early statement to analysts and shareholders that the Tesco management are set on change.

It seems unlikely that The Red Brick Road will keep much (or any) of the business. When a client proclaims change by reviewing its advertising account, the incumbent agency is usually finished. And, anyway, I wouldn't bet against TRBR cutting its losses, deciding not to repitch, walking away head held high and giving itself the chance to prove what sort of agency it can really be, unencumbered by the ugly luxury of such an enormous account.

Meanwhile, Tesco needs to work out what sort of advertising it really needs. The RFI it has issued to ad agencies doesn't give much clue that it knows yet. It talks about a rebirth, a step-change and a few other ultimately meaningless cliches. Presumably, its new-ish group marketing officer, Matt Atkinson, recognises that his company's advertising has been far too transactional; by committing around 80 per cent of its adspend to promotional and pricing messaging, it has helped encourage shoppers to be discount-hungry and promiscuous. Tesco needs to build value and quality back into its relationship with shoppers.

And it needs to work out why it has allowed its advertising to get so bland and lazy. I imagine (as the agency is neither stupid nor creatively redundant) TRBR has been pushing Tesco to explore a different advertising route. Perhaps Tesco is willing, but the agency has failed to deliver a satisfactory alternative. We don't know. What is clear is that Tesco now has the cream of London's non-conflicted agencies to choose from. But it must move quickly to give them a product worthy of better advertising.

claire.beale@haymarket.com

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